UAE Official Tries to Explain Court Ruling Upholding Muslim Men’s Right to Beat Their Wives

By Patrick Goodenough | October 21, 2010 | 5:03am EDT

A verse in the Quran instructs Muslim husbands with disobedient wives to admonish them, then to refuse to sleep with them, and finally to beat them. (Photo: Steve Evans/Wikimedia Commons)

(CNSNews.com) – A top judicial official in the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday tried to allay concerns raised by a controversial ruling from the country’s highest court upholding the right of a Muslim to beat his wife and children.

Islamic scholars cite the Quran itself in defending wife-beating – specifically, a sura that instructs Muslim husbands with disobedient wives to admonish them, then to refuse to sleep with them, and finally to beat them.

In a statement published by the official Emirati news agency WAM, Justice Ministry official Humaid al-Muhairi said domestic violence was not tolerated in the UAE, and the government would continue to act in the case of actions that go “beyond acceptable bounds.”

Muhairi’s statement did not directly contradict this week’s ruling by the Supreme Court, whose independence is upheld by the UAE constitution. He ignored altogether the most contentious element reported by UAE media – that Islamic (shari’a) law gives a Muslim the right to “discipline” his wife and children, provided he does not leave physical marks.

Instead, Muhairi focused on the fact that the court had upheld the conviction of a man who had hit and kicked his wife and 23-year-old daughter. The basis of the conviction in the wife’s case was that the beating was too severe. In the daughter’s case, the Supreme Court said she was too old to be disciplined by her father.

Noting that “the husband was convicted of an excessive degree of chastisement of his wife,” Muhairi said, “It is clear, therefore, that shari’a law does not permit such acts. The ruling further stated that the father’s chastisement of his adult daughter was a breach of shari’a law.”

The statement by Muhairi came in response to local and international media coverage headlining the court’s endorsement of beating within limitations.

“Although the (law) permits the husband to use his right (to discipline), he has to abide by the limits of this right,” the UAE daily The National quoted Chief Justice Falah al-Hajeri as having said.

Reports on the court decision drew condemnation from human rights groups, with Human Rights Watch calling the case “evidence that the authorities consider violence against women and children to be completely acceptable.”

“Domestic violence should never be tolerated under any circumstances,” said the organization’s Middle East women’s rights researcher, Nadya Khalife. “These provisions are blatantly demeaning to women and pose serious risks to their well-being.”

Asked about the case, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, “We have an ongoing dialogue with the UAE that includes our concerns about human rights, and I imagine this would be a part of that dialogue.”

The UAE penal code allows “punishment by a husband of his wife and punishment by parents and custodians of minor children, within the limits prescribed by the shari’a law.”

UAE, a federation of seven emirates including Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has a large expatriate community and is viewed as relatively liberal.

The World Economic Forum’s recently-released annual Global Gender Gap Report, which tracks the degree to which countries have closed gender gaps in politics, education and health, put UAE at 103 out of 134 countries rated, above 12 other Arab states in the index (including Saudi Arabia at 129 and Yemen, placed last at 134.)

‘Beating etiquette’

Many Muslim scholars typically argue that Islam gave rights to women centuries before women enjoyed them elsewhere in the world.

An Afghani shopkeeper waits for customers in his burqa shop in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sept. 1, 2009. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

“Before the advent of Islam, woman had no position in society,” writes one Muhammad Amjad Tariq is a widely-circulated article on the subject. “They were at the mercy and caprice of the menfolk and were treated as goods and chattels. It was Islam that, for the first time, vindicated the rights of woman and gave them a status unknown and even unthought of this day. They are granted all the fundamental rights. Islam is the unique religion in this respect to endow woman with equal rights and to put her on the same level with man.”

Sura 30:21 of the Quran speaks of Allah having ordained “love and mercy” between man and wife.

On the other hand, sura 4:34 spells out how a Muslim husband should deal with a rebellious, disobedient or disloyal wife: “As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them,” said the Pickthall translation of Islam’s revered text.

Another translation, Shakir, says, “Those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them.”

On Egyptian television last February, Islamic cleric Sa’d Arafat discussed with an interviewer the “etiquette” for corporal punishment of wives. Beatings were permissible in Islam, he said, when a man’s wife “refuses to sleep with him.”

“The prophet Muhammad said: ‘Don’t beat her in the face, and do not make her ugly,’” he said, according to video clip of the Arabic-language interview and translation provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

“See how she is honored,” Arafat continued. “If the husband beats his wife, he must not beat her in the face. Even when he beats her, he must not curse her. This is incredible! He beats her in order to discipline her.

“In addition, there must not be more than ten beatings, and he must not break her bones, injure her, break her teeth, or poke her in the eye. There is a beating etiquette. If he beats to discipline her, he must not raise his hand high. He must beat her from chest level. All these things honor the woman.”

MEMRI also provided a translation of a 2007 television interview with the Egyptian scholar who has since been appointed by President Hosni Mubarak to the foremost position in Sunni Islam – the head of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, location of President Obama’s 2009 “speech to the Muslim world.”

Discussing the Quranic injunction to beat rebellious wives (Quran 4:34), Sheikh Ahmad Muhammad Ahmad al-Tayyeb said, “It’s not that anybody can start beating as he sees fit. [Westerners] who claim this are talking about an Islam which is a figment of their imagination … It’s not really beating, it’s more like punching ... It’s like shoving or poking her. That's what it is.”

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